MHS Centennial Organization: The Canadian Club of Winnipeg
The Canadian Club of Winnipeg, a not-for-profit, apolitical organization, is one of Canada’s oldest speakers clubs. It provides a dynamic forum for outstanding speakers to talk on a broad range of topics of interest to all Canadians.
The Canadian Clubs of Guelph and Hamilton are recognized as the first such organizations, having been established in 1889 and 1893, respectively. The attendees at the founding meeting of the Hamilton club included newspaper publisher W. Sanford Evans, who was elected the club’s first President.
Evans was a keen supporter of Canadian Clubs. His vision was for the Club to be a non-partisan and non-sectarian organization, not aligned with any political party or interest, which would spread a Canadian national sentiment across the country. In 1897, he helped to establish the Canadian Club of Toronto and, in 1904, having moved to Winnipeg to edit and publish The Winnipeg Telegram newspaper, founded the Canadian Club of Winnipeg. The founding meeting occurred on 31 March 1904 in the YMCA building on Portage Avenue. Charter members included a broad swath of Manitobans, many of whom are commemorated today in the names of streets, schools, and other public works. They included politician James A. M. Aikins (Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba from 1916 to 1926), Reverend Charles W. Gordon (perhaps better known as author Ralph Connor), civil engineer and future Winnipeg mayor Thomas R. Deacon, School Buildings Commissioner J. B. Mitchell, lawyer John S. Ewart (first President of the Club), photographer Frederick W. Parkin, University of Manitoba Professor William F. Osborne and, of course, Sanford Evans, who later served as Mayor of Winnipeg, from 1909 to 1911.
Like the clubs established before it, the Canadian Club of Winnipeg formed in a period of growing awareness of, or desire for, a Canadian identity, which was sometimes in conflict with prevailing imperialist sentiments. The group’s constitution defined its objective to “… foster patriotism by encouraging the study of institutions, history, arts, literature, and resources of Canada, and by endeavouring to unite Canadians in such work for the welfare and progress of the Dominion.” The Club held its first regular meeting on 27 March 1905. Members were invited to express their views to each other, each speaker being restricted to not more than ten minutes so that business people could attend the lunch-time meeting without missing work in the afternoon. About two hundred Winnipeggers attended. From these auspicious beginnings, the Club grew rapidly. By 1914, it boasted over 1,800 members, making it the largest Canadian Club.
Besides its luncheon speeches, the early Club also promoted Canadian national sentiment in the Winnipeg community. They distributed miniature silk flags to schools on Dominion Day, gave awards to non-English students who went to English classes, and provided scholarships to encourage students to study Canadian history at the University level. Between 1904 and 1919, they donated over $10,000 to a variety of patriotic causes, such as relief for the victims of the Halifax explosion and the Quebec bridge disaster. Many members served in Canadian military forces, and those who lost their lives during conflict were commemorated by a plaque at the Royal Alexandra Hotel, where the Club typically met.
The Club has welcomed hundreds of well informed speakers during its history, including newspaperman John W. Dafoe, Rudyard Kipling, William Lyon MacKenzie King, railroad tycoon James J. Hill, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Lord Strathcona, hardware magnate J. H. Ashdown, Joey Smallwood, Pierre Trudeau, Duff Roblin, Edward Schreyer, Peter C. Newman, Bob Rae, George Erasmus, Mordecai Richler, Izzy Asper, Lloyd Axworthy, Paul Martin, Preston Manning, Joe Clark, Boutros Botrous-Ghali, Jean Chrétien, Allan Fotheringham, Pamela Wallin, Gilles Duceppe, Paul Martin, Gary Doer, and the Honourable John Harvard, Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba.
Today, over 350 members meet monthly, usually over lunch, to hear outstanding speakers on a broad range of topics, from the political arena to the forefront of technology, to hot button topics such as health care reform, to the latest in current affairs. The Club is aimed at those who want to keep abreast of local, national, and international affairs, who enjoy meeting people and renewing old acquaintances.
Presidents of the Canadian Club of Winnipeg
“Winnipeg’s Canadian Club chooses Aitken president,” Winnipeg Free Press, 2 May 1950, page 3.
“Gurney Evans Canadian Club Head,” Winnipeg Free Press, 22 May 1954, page 3.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 17 August 2021